Friday, January 17, 2020

Friday slowdown

I noticed this on the internet recently and hope that you will receive a blessing. The words of this old song are so sound in their theology -- and so inspiring, too!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current
Of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to
Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth
never, nevermore!
How He watches o'er His loved ones,
died to call them all His own
how for them He intercedeth, watcheth
o'er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
'Tis a heav'n of heav'ns to me
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!



Thursday, January 16, 2020

Responding to opposition - plus your thoughts


This week, we have studied Biblical strategies for dealing with opposition. We have seen that our first response should be prayer, and that we should then work with all our hearts and also remain vigilant in the face of the enemy.
Lastly, we will see in the fourth chapter of Nehemiah, that we should keep our minds focused on the Lord.
After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” (v 14)
Nehemiah reminded them that the Lord is great and awesome; he directed their focus away from the wiles of the enemy to the mighty power of God.
It's easy sometimes when opposition hits to get our focus off the Lord. We tend to focus on those problems. When this happens, let's remember what Paul told us:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)
If we believers are tempted to give in to opposition; if we are tempted to give in to sin, remember the ripple effects that it will start . . . first it will affect us; then it will affect our families; then it will affect others who see our testimony.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (I Corinthians 10:13)
Let's keep our minds focused on the Lord!

If we are Christians and we try to accomplish anything for the Lord, we will experience opposition. We can take the example of Nehemiah and respond positively -- keeping our focus on the great and awesome God whom we serve.

Now, we've had some good discussions in the past.....I 'd like for us to consider this question and leave comments for others to consider.

Does Satan use believers to oppose God's work today? If the answer is yes, how?




Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Responding to opposition


Right after the response of prayer, the second response to opposition is to put our hearts into the work of God's kingdom.
 for the people worked with all their heart. (Nehemiah 4:6b)
When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.(v15)
The people followed Nehemiah's example and his instructions, and they put their hearts into the work. I expect there was a pause while Nehemiah gave them their "marching orders" about being prepared for attacks, but they didn't jump down from the wall and go chase down the enemy. (Grin) They didn't allow the threats they heard to pull their focus onto other issues.
They just kept building.
And building.
Pretty soon, when the enemies came for their daily stop by the wall to mock the Jews, they had to "crane their necks" and were looking way up at them, instead of looking straight across at them, over the wall!
There are definitely times that we need to defend the faith. We need to refute false teachers. We need to defend sound doctrine after pointing out false doctrine. In Titus 1, Paul says that elders need to refute false doctrine and to "silence" those who are teaching falsehoods. But we must be careful that we don't get distracted -- our main purpose is to proclaim the gospel of our Lord, and to build His kingdom. Just like the workers on the wall, we need both our swords and our trowels. The reason for the sword is so we can continue to use the trowel.
We need to know our Bibles; we need apologetics. We must boldly hold and proclaim the truths of Jesus Christ; if we don't defend the faith, more people will go without knowing Jesus and more false teachings will infiltrate Christianity:
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. (Jude 1)
The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. (Philippians 1:16)
It's our responsibility to defend the faith with the sword of God's Word; but let's be careful not to neglect the winning and building up of people as our main goal.
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,    and the one who is wise saves lives. (Proverbs 11:30)
On another front (remember, I told you that Nehemiah had a multi-pronged strategy!) after prayer and heartfelt work came vigilance . . . remember the old sayings, "Trust God and keep your powder dry!" and "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!"
Nehemiah set up a guard -- he knew that the enemy would not merely go away. Prayer is not a magic wand that makes all of our troubles disappear! It doesn't mean that we can ignore the enemy's threats. Or pretend they don't exist.
From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me. (Nehemiah 4:16-18)
Nehemiah armed the workers AND posted guards around the clock. He even put in place a warning system:
Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!” (v 19-20)
Wherever they heard the trumpet blown, they would rally to protect the workers there, as well as their families and the city. They even went so far as to be at the ready during the night hours:
So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and as workers by day.” 23 Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water. (v 21-23)
Nehemiah was keeping his eyes on the enemy. He was being an example for us of vigilance. . . .
If we heard that a dangerous lion had escaped from the local zoo, would we go out and play in our yards, or stroll nonchalantly through the nearby park? I don't think so. But many of us are oblivious at times to the dangers from the devil. Many believers ignore the risks as he prowls the earth like a lion:
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8)
Many believers have forgotten all about the armor of God (Ephesians 6). They hang out in questionable places with worldly friends. They let their kids watch garbage on cable television, and then when the kids are in bed, they turn to "adult" programming and let the filth inundate their minds. If we don't want to fall victim to the devil, we have to set up defenses against him - in advance! We need to make sure we block the filth from our lives and our homes. We need to spend time each day immersed in the Word of God. We also need a network of family in the Lord that can rally around us when the devil attacks.
Just as a side note, I've found it helpful to put two of my loved pastimes together recently.....study of God's Word and stitching. I enjoy doing embroidery and handwork, and lately I have re-discovered the designs of a Christian sister in Australia. It helps me to focus on the verse or sentiment that I'm stitching, and I can think of verses or pray as a work.
Nehemiah and the workers responded to the opposition they experienced in positive and Biblical ways. We will finish our study tomorrow. . . .

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Responding to opposition biblically


Whenever we encounter opposition, we have a few different options on how we can respond. Some are right. Some are right in the eyes of the world. Some are just plain wrong.

Let's look at some tactics. (A long post today, but hang in there, OK?)
First, you can run from opposition. You might pretend it's not there, or you might agree that it's there, but either way, you just turn tail and run.
Not good.
As an alternative, you could try to dodge it - go around it - and see if that worked. Pretend that the long way around was what you intended to do all along.
That one's not too good, either.
Reasoning things out is always good, right? You could try to work out a compromise. Unfortunately, both sides lose a bit in a compromise, and you end up giving way, at least partially, to your opposition.
So that's not the best option, either.
Most of us are not crazy about conflict, but you could meet the opposition head on, straight up, and work through it.
That last approach is usually the only good long-term way. And it's the Biblical way, too.

Many of the best generals the world has ever known have been adept at juggling several "fronts" of attack at the same time. Nehemiah would have made an excellent general!

Nehemiah had four prongs of attack, and we will look at each of them in turn.
His first "front" was that he and the builders lifted their voices in prayer.
"Oh, come on," someone might say, "you're in the midst of opposition and you're going to get on your knees?"
Well, yes!
Often when we are faced with opposition, our first response is to get angry. We want to hit back. We want to defend ourselves. But I'm here to tell ya - our first response should always be prayer. I like this quote by John Bunyan:
     You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed. Pray often, for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge to Satan.
Prayer does some pretty awesome things: it reminds us that God is sovereign, even over those who are opposing and attacking us.  Since He has allowed this trial in our lives for a reason, it makes sense to pray and submit our hearts to Him. We also acknowledge our trust in Him when we pray.
Nehemiah's prayer sure is interesting, though. Check this out:
Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. (Nehemiah 4:4-5)
Well, I never.
Kinda flies in the face of "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5)  Doesn't it? What about that?
Does this trouble you? I had to study up on this, since it just didn't seem to match some other passages in the Word of God that came to mind...
Should we pray as Nehemiah did when faced with opposition?
I think part of our answer can be seen if we check another translation:
Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders. (v 4-5)
I believe that Nehemiah first "brought it to the attention" of God (of course, He already knew) that these Ammonites and Samaritans were opposed to the work on the wall. They were actually insulting the name of God in their mockery and sarcasm.  The first request that he made was that their hate be turned back to them. This doesn't seem that harsh when we compare it to others -- check out these verses:
Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;    Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions!
Let them vanish like water that flows away, (Psalm 58:6-7a)
May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,    and their backs be bent forever. Pour out your wrath on them;    let your fierce anger overtake them. May their place be deserted;    let there be no one to dwell in their tents. (Psalm 69:23-25) 
So give their children over to famine;    hand them over to the power of the sword.
Let their wives be made childless and widows;    let their men be put to death,    their young men slain by the sword in battle. (Jeremiah 18:21) 
I actually think that Nehemiah's prayer is a great example for us; it seems harsh to us today, but let's look at what he was doing. He didn't debate the issue. He didn't choose some people and form a committee. He didn't even take the time to confront the opposition in person (at this point). Instead, he took it to God in prayer, and reminded himself and God of his reliance on Him.
Then, Nehemiah asked God to battle their enemies for them. It's absolutely proper and OK for believers to pray such prayers - because they are letting go of their own anger and desires (like, I wanna go punch that guy!) and letting God deal with things!
If we are angry at someone, or are being opposed by an enemy or by Satan, we can "go at them" in prayer. We don't do this in the sense of praying evil upon them, but in the sense of turning them over to a just God Who knows best how to handle things. We should not pray for personal vengeance, but that God would take things out of our mortal hands and take care of things. Have you ever thought about the fact that when we pray for God's kingdom to be established (like in the Lord's prayer) we are asking for all kingdoms that oppose His to be destroyed? Now, we know that God can "destroy" or nullify opposition by converting them; by saving their souls. Or, He can pour out His wrath upon them (like He will do against some at the final judgment, if they have not repented of their rebellion against Him).
Please don't get me wrong here -- we need to recognize, as Nehemiah did, that this is God's cause, not our own. We need to guard our hearts carefully against selfish motives. We need to guard against selfish delight in seeing our enemies brought down. But we can also remember that the saints will rejoice when God ultimately judges the wicked:
“Rejoice over her, you heavens!    Rejoice, you people of God!    Rejoice, apostles and prophets!For God has judged her    with the judgment she imposed on you.” (Revelation 18:20)
If our hearts are right, we can pray that God will subdue the enemies of His work. It's His choice whether He subdues them by conversion or by His justice. Either way, prayer is our first response to opposition!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Opposition - negativity and fear


The devil has a couple more things to try.
Remember when we talked about "glass half empty; glass half full"?
Some people have a positive outlook on life, while others have a negative one.
Negative Nellies have a special place in Satan's toolkit!
Let's look back at chapter four and then we can talk . . .
Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” (v 12)
Waaaaaaaaaait a minute!
The anger, intimidation, mockery and all came from the enemy without: Sanballat, Tobiah, and others in the region.
This negativism came from the Jews themselves -- the ones who lived near the enemy. And here is another thing to notice . . . these people were not involved in the building of the wall! It says they lived near them (the enemy) and so they were constantly exposed to the negative attacks on the rebuilding.
But.
But they were not involved personally in the work.
So, on the one hand, they were hearing all kinds of threats and negative reports and mockery, and on the other hand, they were not part of the rebuilding, so they had NO CLUE what God was doing in the city of Jerusalem. No firsthand knowledge. My commentaries noted that the "ten times" is a Hebrew expression. It means they came over and over and over and.....well, you get my drift. They were nagging the workers and Nehemiah.

Negativity can sure be the enemy of faith. Remember the spies sent into the Promised Land? The negative ones came back and said, "There are giants in the land! We were like grasshoppers in their sight....there's no way we can take the land."  (See Numbers 13 for the full story.)

Have you ever noticed that the most negative people in the church are usually professing Christians who live near the enemy and are not involved in the work? (Grin) Yep, it happens that way. If one lives near the enemy, one must pay particular attention and make certain to not be influenced by him. And the best medicine for a negative Nellie is to get him or her involved in the work. Of course, there is a proper place for realistic thought. We should not (and Nehemiah did not) ignore real dangers or issues. But if we spend too much time listening to the prophets of doom, we won't get our work done for the Lord!

The last thing we'll talk about today is fear. I guess sometimes it is not a tool in and of itself, but may be a cumulative effect. After all, we are human. Anger, mockery, intimidation, negativity, and threats can take a toll on us!
After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” (v 14)
Nehemiah must have seen some fearful faces as he looked around, and he gently told them not to be afraid. He knew his people. He knew they'd experienced all of the enemy's tricks and now were nearing exhaustion. Nehemiah exhorted them to have courage.

Satan can use fear to paralyze believers and keep them from attempting anything significant for the Lord.
Maybe it is fear of failure....."I've never done this before."
Maybe it is fear of rejection...."Everyone will think I'm a fanatic."
Maybe it is fear of conflict....."If I do what God wants me to do, I'll be a target."

Don't be afraid. The Lord, "who is great and awesome," gave us our task. He will be with us.
Next time, we'll talk about some responses to the devil and his tactics!

Friday, January 10, 2020

Friday

I was inspired by a recent comment to look for this old gospel song -- wow, did it bring back memories!
Enjoy this -- and I bet you're singing along before the second verse is done!




Blessings to all - see you next week!


Thursday, January 9, 2020

Opposition strategies



That ole devil.
He sure has a lot of different strategies, doesn't he? (Grin) He's had quite a while to hone those and develop just the right things for certain humans.

Some humans don't worry about people being angry with them, like we studied yesterday. Some don't care a feather or a fig about ridicule; the anger and the mockery just slide right off them like those beads of water on our ducklings' backs (once they got their feathers and their down was covered up!).
The devil gets more bold for people like that. He gets more aggressive.
He pulls out two more tools -- threats and intimidation.
Now, Sanballat, as governor of Samaria, and Tobiah, too, as leader of Ammon, were ultimately required to report to the fellow that sent Nehemiah out on this task: Artaxerxes. Yep, the high and mighty muckety-muck with all the power and the money. What does this have to do with anything the devil might devise?
Well, Nehemiah's enemies needed to be careful; he and his countrymen were working with Artaxerxes' permission. Tobiah or Sanballat or one of the other two neighbors couldn't just rustle up their armies, march on Jerusalem, and lay waste to the work being done.
Nope.
If they were to do that, they would actually be charged and tried for rebellion against King Artaxerxes.
But they could (and they probably did) use threats and acts of violence. Let's look back at chapter four.
They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” (v. 8, 11-12)
Ohhhhhh, sneaky!
They circulated threats among the people working; they may even have sent small bands of terrorists in to pick off a few of the people working on the wall. That way, Sanballat would just tell Artaxerxes it was "just a band of rengades that I don't have any control over..."
Sounds a lot like the international politics of today, does it not? The nations ruled by Islam can shake off the blame or culpability for havoc and murders by saying, well, it's not something we did officially. It's just a group of renegades - surely you understand that we can't control them all!
These threats and the campaign of intimidation certainly put the Jewish people under immense pressure.
The devil still uses threats and intimidation to oppose us believers . . .  don't think so? "If you don't keep quiet about the boss's using the company's money unethically, you'll lose your job." Or, "don't say anything about being a Christian in that job interview, or they'll think you're a fanatic and not hire you."
How about this? "If you discipline your children the way you feel Scripture tells you, the department of social services will come and take them from you."
Or even this? "If you write that paper and defend the creation theory, that professor won't pass you and you won't graduate."
There's even something as simple and as subtle as a roll of the eyes or a slightly irritated eyebrow raise at a business dinner when you bow your head to thank God for the food, and they need to wait for an answer to their question.
Yes, the devil knows just what will stop us. Or at least slow us down.
And he will use whatever he needs to . . .
If we aren't careful, he can even use our "tireds."
We can see in verse ten of our chapter that the people were getting discouraged. And tired.
 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
The piles of rubbish didn't seem to be getting any smaller! And even though the people had worked with all their might (verse 6) they were starting to "run out of steam" as my grandma used to say. They'd made such a great start! They had worked enthusiastically and the wall had gotten up to half of its planned height. Satan knows humans very well: he knows that right in the middle of things, exhaustion can set in. People start to focus more on the piles of rubble than on the wall they've gotten midway through on. They feel like quitting. (He knows he has to strike at just the right point, too, because humans seem to get another surge of enthusiasm if they can just get over that hump and think "we're almost done!")

Sometimes it's that way in our Christian life, too. When we are first saved, or immediately after an experience of re-dedicating ourselves to following Christ, everything is exciting. Each Bible study you go to is fresh. Every podcast is challenging. The time we spend in prayer is rich and satisfying. But somewhere down the line, the "new" wears off, as one of our recent posts noted. We start to focus more on the piles of rubble than on that wall we should be building. We begin to grow discouraged and fatigued, and wonder if our efforts are making any difference for the kingdom.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
Paul just knew that we needed to hear that, right? (Grin) That's where our study times will come in so handy! We can thwart the schemes of the devil if we have an arsenal of verses from God's Word to help us along!

He will just have to grab something else from his toolkit! Or go away and bother someone else! We're not giving up!